As I suggested in my previous essay, one wouldn't have to look hard through the Steve Ditko oeuvre to find examples where he let his didactic tendencies overwhelm his imagination. The three short stories about the hero Static-- who, yes, had the name before the better known Milestone hero-- are a case in point.
A young scientist, name of Stac Rae, works in a laboratory alongside his mentor Ed Serch, and is apparently dating Serch's daughter Fera. though it's sometimes hard to tell, given Ditko's disinterest in melodrama. For once, Ditko's peculiar choices of contemporary names make a degree of sense. "Stac" is probably a short form for the hero's costumed identity, while "Rae" speaks to the hero's energy-related nature; "Serch" is a symbol of the ceaseless inquiry of scientific inquiry and "Fera" is just an anagram for "fear," since of the three central characters she's the one most dominated by subjective emotions.
Stac and Serch are testing a new form of armor, which Stac is currently wearing. A couple of crooks break into the lab, hoping to loot it for their mysterious master. The hoods cause the armor-clad scientist to be bombarded by radiation, and this in turn causes the suit to assume new properties. When Stac wears the suit, he finds that he can project energy-blasts and magnetic flux; the latter power allows him to latch on to moving cars or to climb walls, not unlike a certain web-spinner with whom Ditko was associated. The new hero's radiations also interfere with radio broadcasts, so that whenever he approaches criminals using their radios, they say something like "I hear static"-- though this makes less of a joke than it should, since no one actually calls the armor-clad scientist "Static."
In contrast to "Destroyer of Heroes," Ditko devotes only desultory attention to the villains of the three short stories. One is a crooked scientist, another is a hitman working for a crooked scientist, and the third is an evil general. All three have some sort of super-weapons, so that they are able to fight Static on his own super-powered terms, but the fights are clearly secondary to tedious philosophical arguments, like this one.
Despite Ditko's tone-deafness to the way real human beings speak, some of the issues he raises could have had genuine appeal. Twice in the short-lived series, characters argue, as Fera does above, that science does not promote universal values: that "you can't go from facts to values; to unscientific truths." But though Ditko raises the question, he doesn't really grapple with it, either in the didactic or the mythopoeic mode. Stac's answer-- "I see no dichotomy between 'is' and 'ought'"-- is a childish attempt to put aside the famous dichotomy of David Hume. apparently with the intention of asserting an absolute identity between Objectivist truth and scientific findings. Both Fera and, to a lesser extent, Serch raise objections to Stac's missionary zeal about using the super-suit for the purpose of justice, but Stac simply overrides them with fatuous appeals to the importance of "choice." I too believe in the importance of free will, even within a scientific cosmos that many deem deterministic. But I don't think free will inheres in simply ignoring any questions that make one's decision seem in any way murky. Though scientific gimmickery is on display, the short series does not deal with the content of science, which could promote a cosmological myth. Instead, the emphasis is on the individual's duty to use the "principles of creation" to the benefit of society, aligning the series with myths of a sociological nature.
SUPERHEROES ARE DAMN-NEAR EVERYWHERE #77
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